Temporary funding deal is set for FAA
A temporary Federal Aviation Administration funding deal would put 4,000 furloughed employees back to work and end a stalemate that has brought airport construction projects to a standstill, congressional leaders announced.
On Friday, the Senate is expected to agree to a House-passed version of a temporary funding extension that would last until Sept. 16. The extension was held up in the Senate because House Republicans had added a rider to cut subsidies for rural airport service.
“This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. “But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences.”
The agency had been forced to put “nonessential” employees on unpaid leave and to require some “essential” employees to work without pay and charge their travel expenses to personal credit cards. In addition, without the legal authority to collect ticket taxes from airlines, the FAA has missed out on $350 million in revenue since July 22, when the previous funding bill expired.
Employees could return to work as soon as Monday, but it’s unclear for how long.
“This issue is still unresolved, as far as I’m concerned,” said Dan Stefko, an engineer with the FAA who has been out of work for nearly two weeks. “It could be 11/2 months before we could be right back in the same exact spot.”
The Senate, which adjourned Tuesday, will vote on the House-passed bill with just a few members present under a procedure requiring unanimous consent.
After the president signs it, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to issue waivers to airports affected by the subsidy cuts -- meaning their subsidies would continue.
“This is a tremendous victory for American workers everywhere,” LaHood said in a statement. “From construction workers to our FAA employees, they will have the security of knowing they are going to go back to work and get a paycheck.”
Lawmakers have worked for more than four years to try to resolve disagreements in a long-term aviation bill. Since the FAA’s permanent funding expired in 2007, 20 temporary extensions have been passed to buy more time.
A central sticking point in the larger bill is a Republican-backed provision that would make it harder for airline and rail workers to unionize. A rule change by the National Mediation Board last year allowed those employees to unionize if a simple majority of those voting agreed. Republicans want those who do not vote to count as “no” votes.
Usually, temporary extensions of FAA funding have been routine. But this time, House Republicans added the airport subsidies provision, which targeted airports in states represented by key Democrats, as a way to exert pressure on Senate Democrats to make concessions on provisions in the larger bill.
One of the airports targeted is in Nevada, Reid’s home state.
As late as Wednesday afternoon, congressional leaders were digging in their heels and it seemed likely the stalemate would stretch through Labor Day. Democrats accused Republicans of “hostage taking” and called on the House to pass a “clean” funding extension.
President Obama contacted House Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday, but Boehner told the president that the House had “done its work” and that it was “up to the Senate to act,” according to one GOP aide who was not authorized to speak publicly.
“House Republicans made it clear they would continue to hold the entire aviation system hostage,” said Senate Transportation Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). “I deplore those tactics, but ultimately the stakes for real people are too high.”
House Republicans were curiously silent Thursday. A statement released by Boehner’s office simply said: “We are pleased the Senate has agreed to pass the House-approved FAA extension tomorrow.”
But House aides questioned the idea that the agreement to end the standoff was bipartisan.
“He’s making it sound like everyone got together and agreed,” another GOP aide said. “My understanding is that Reid and Rockefeller and LaHood got together and decided how they would move forward.... It wasn’t something we were involved with.”
The extension’s language gives LaHood discretion over subsidies for at least 10 of the airports, but it’s unclear whether he has the authority to waive the subsidy cuts for the other three.
Employees could report to work the next business day after Obama signs the bill.
But Stefko and his colleagues remain wary. “All it takes is one objection to kill a unanimous consent vote,” he said. “Until that is passed, there will be no Champagne being popped.”
Lisa Mascaro in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.